QNS: Astoria lawmaker urges Hochul to review National Grid's downstate rate hikes

Originally published in QNS on November 15, 2021.

Declaring that utility ratepayers shouldn’t be investing in harming their own communities, state Senator Michael Gianaris is calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to look into a recent decision by the Public Service Commission (PSC) to allow National Grid to raise rates in their downstate region to “build on their fossil fuel infrastructure.”

In his letter to the governor, Gianaris argues hiking rates to build this infrastructure run afoul of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), the nation-leading climate law passed in 2019.

“Ratepayers should not be investing in yesterday’s infrastructure to address tomorrow’s challenges. That’s why the Senate led the way and enacted the CLCPA. The PSC’s decision does not comport with the goals that the governor and the Legislature share,” Gianaris said. “I am asking Governor Hochul to review the PSC’s decision because frontline environmental justice communities should not pay for the same infrastructure that caused the havoc we’re already experiencing.”

Gianaris explained that PSC did not perform any accounting of National Grid’s greenhouse gas emissions yet “summarily concluded the rate hike complied with CLCPA,” which the PSC acknowledges applies to rate hike cases. National Grid’s stated reason for this rate hike is to pay for the North Brooklyn Pipeline and additional fossil fuel infrastructure projects.

“We have seen the devastation the climate crisis has ravaged on Queens and other coastal areas,” Gianaris wrote. “We cannot afford to continue investing in fossil fuel infrastructure. Ratepayers in frontline communities paying more money for this infrastructure are perversely forced to contribute to the ongoing destruction of their own neighborhoods.”

National Grid says its three-year investment plan is the product of “two years of extensive negotiations and collaborations among stakeholders,” and that the plan provides balance for their customers, allowing the utility to prioritize energy affordability while investing in programs “necessary to maintain the safety and reliability” of its networks and implement new programs to accelerate decarbonization and the transition to a cleaner energy future.

“The benefits are substantial: rates frozen for one year, new programs to support vulnerable customers — including customers experiencing financial hardships for the first time because of COVID, an unprecedented set of commitments to advance the state’s climate goals and reduce emissions,” a National Grid spokeswoman said. “We are pleased to have worked with our key stakeholders, including the New York State Department of Public Service to reach an agreement that supports our customers and is consistent with the requirements of the CLCPA.”

Sane Energy Project organizer Lee Ziesche, who helped lead a coalition of environmental groups against National Grid’s plan to build the Williams pipeline project and the recent PSC denial of permits for NRG Energy’s proposed gas turbine power plant in Astoria, also urged Hochul to review the PSC’s approval of National Grid’s “egregious rate hike that is forcing millions of New Yorkers already struggling with utility debt” to pay higher monthly bills for new fracked gas projects in 2021.

“The DEC recently found that two new fracked gas power plants did not comply with the CLCPA and we need equal enforcement of our laws across all New York state agencies,” Ziesche said. “From Astoria to North Brooklyn, our communities are united behind ensuring New York’s groundbreaking and environmental justice law is upheld and our neighborhoods are protected.”